Our ride to the summit of Mount Noulja was in the darkness of a moonlit night. The wind slapped my face to freeze my ears and nose and hissed past our climbing two-seater chairlift. The night air had made my gloves redundant, and the slow ride felt like a trip through a blast chiller. Each time the car stopped for the next passenger to alight, our chair would swing like a pendulum. Falling into the dark wilderness was less scary than dropping our snow boots in the silver abyss. Below us, the silver pathways of the ski-slope looked treacherous to my never-skied-in-my-life eyes. We were still minutes away from our destination, Aurora Sky Station. I looked up to the sky in the hope to see the promised glimmering skies, but all I could see was grey void.
The previous night was our first in Abisko. We stayed in Abisko Tourist Station, a lodge that offered basic amenities with an appalling Wi-Fi connectivity. It was 9:30 pm and the website, http://www.aurora-service.eu/, said that the aurora activity was high at that time. However at times, sleep wins over a possibility of sighting of nature’s marvel. I kept waking up frequently throughout the night to look outside my window, beyond the mountains on the other side of Lake Torneträsk and hoped to see the heavens on fire. My efforts were futile, maybe we were not cold enough.
Night View of Frozen Lake Torneträsk (on the left), Abisko Tourist Station(lower left), Abisko Village (in the centre), and Aurora Sky Station (lower right)
Inside the Sami Tent, Kiruna, Sweden
Smoke filled the Lavvu or Sami tent, yet the air inside was more agreeable than the breeze blowing from the frozen River Torne. We huddled around a wood fire, as our Sami guide passed us warm lingonberry juice.
“Don’t throw leftover drinks into the fire, Jabme Akka, Goddess of the underworld, resides under it,” she warned.
Sami are the indigenous inhabitants of Scandinavia, and like many other ethnic people, they ascertained divinity to their surroundings. Magic lurked everywhere and the revered everything . Nature set the rhythm and not man. Even in the current age, their life was in sync with nature. In summer, they would let go of their reindeer. The animals go into the forest to forage and return after the breeding season. The herds returned at the onset of winter, and the young calves belonged to its mother’s master…
The town welcomed us with snowflakes and winds of sub-zero warmth. Carpets of snow-covered the trees, houses, cars; the entire landscape, but the road. I am from the tropics, so to me Kiruna, which was 145 kilometres north of Arctic Circle, was exotic, like a sunny white beach might be to some.
Rising up from the stocky cubical structure, against the metallic grey horizon, was a skeletal clock; we were near the Town Hall of Sweden’s Northern Most City. Further away in the distance was Kirunavvara Mountain, with rock terraces that coiled down to earth’s bowels, towards world’s one of the largest iron reserves that was 4 km long, 80 m thick, and stretched to a depth of 2 km. Next to the Kirunavvara Mountain was Lossavaara Mountain that held a research mine and a ski slope.
Kiruna Town Hall
Entrance of the Ice Hotel
I lay on my side trying to shield my face from freezing cold. The stench of reindeer skin, similar to a wet dog, made me smell like a Neanderthal. No wonder the hominid is extinct! The zip of my sleeping bag was stuck halfway. I managed to pull and hold it close to my chin; I was lazy to go back to the reception to get it replaced. Just when I was starting to feel warm, I had an urge to pee. Ice Hotel did not have toilets inside the average rooms; restrooms were yards away, near the reception. Dashing through the icy corridors, in a pair of thermal undergarments, became my only option.
Earlier that afternoon, we had checked into the world’s first Ice Hotel at Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. It stood on the banks of frozen River Torne. The dream began 25 years ago with inspiration from snow festival in Sapporo, Japan.
Every year, the construction took place on the river banks from October with ice harvested earlier in March. A composite of ice and snow, called snice, was a substitute for mortar. The only common feature in each year’s hotel was the corridor with ice chandeliers; the design and the artworks changed annually. This year’s Ice hotel had 55 rooms and it spread over an area of 5500 square metres.